Director, Tim Burton’s name alone should give away the tone of this movie, which is an adaptation of a young adult novel inspired by some odd vintage photos its author found at a flea market. It reminds me of Stephen King, not only because it’s a dark fantasy (Burton considers it “a scary Mary Poppins”); the author admits the movie version of his story is better. Screen writer, Jane Goldman tightened it with various character modifications/ amalgamations and plot elucidations.
Perhaps vaguely similar to the founder of Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngster or Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Miss Peregrine nurtures and protects a unique troop of children stuck in a time loop. They’re discovered by an unsuspecting young man on a research trip with his scientist, father. The beauty of this film is both in its minimal use of digital effects as well as in the infusion of subtle details, which are either foreshadowing, references to aforementioned history, or homages to Burton’s prior work, none of which distract from the plot or compromise its consistency.
The epitome of “difficult to describe” and “impossible to classify,” this story has a lot going on. The initial marketing—especially the incongruous movie poster—was ticket bait for those looking for frenetically salacious and lewd content; anyone with a sense of decency avoided it in disgust.
Quality acting helps ground potentially off-the-rails characters as the story deliberately shows them at their worst to establish the misunderstood subversive behaviors, for which they are publicly ostracized. A solider with recurring panic attacks returns home to discover his girlfriend is missing. Meanwhile, she gets dumped out of a pickup truck, battered and in her underwear, along the side of the road. A hot-headed recluse drags her to his home where she wakes up chained to the radiator. Madness, right? That’s the point. Though everyone seems crazy at the outset, the beauty of this story is the bonds they forge along their journey toward healing despite complex struggles.
Normally, I wouldn’t give nearly so much of the plot away but in this case it’s the only way to justify seeing past such a depraved opening. As it turns out, the young woman was abused as a child; as with most victims, she feels a combination of guilt and confusion over her body’s response. So when she grows up and develops romantic feelings—even for guy who genuinely cares about her—she’s confused about how to give and receive affection, thus trapped in a vicious cycle of promiscuity. The antisocial loner, who initially holds her prisoner for her own safety, turns out to be a religious Blues musician who struggles with alcohol abuse following a contentious divorce. Heartbreak has left him closed off to the world.
As they compare the vices that serve to distract them from haunting memories, the two strike up a friendship that functions more like a father showing his wayward daughter some tough love, which includes having the local preacher over for lunch to hear his two cents:
“Ima tell you something and it’s just gonna be between you and me. I think folks carry on about Heaven too much, like it’s some kind of all-you-eat buffet up in the clouds and folks just do as they told so they can eat what they want behind some pearly gates. There’s sinning in my heart, there’s evil in the world. But when I got no one, I talk to God. I ask for strength, I ask for forgiveness; not peace at the end of my days when I got no more life to live, or no more good to do, but today, right now… what’s your Heaven?”